During last month’s nine-day break when he was forecasting what was ahead for the Wild, coach Bruce Boudreau projected 58 points for the team through 55 games.
After a three-win week, its longest streak since early December, the Wild met that goal and became entrenched in a crowded Western Conference playoff race.
But the team’s outlook would have been even better if it got a jump on expectations, an opportunity it wasted by slipping up 3-2 to the Avalanche on Sunday in front of an announced 17,444 at Xcel Energy Center, ending its recent run.
“It was a playoff hockey game, like all of them are going to be from this stage on,” Boudreau said. “We came up short.”
At four points shy of the second wild-card seed, the Wild remains very much in the mix.
Add in the fact it’s proved it can hang in these playoff-like battles, and the bigger picture is encouraging — even if the Wild will start a new week looking to rebound.
“It’s the will,” winger Kevin Fiala said of the switch that flipped. “We know where we are. We don’t need motivation, that’s for sure. I think the way we’ve been playing this week we can beat anybody. We just have to do it every game. There’s still a lot of games left. We still believe.”
Aside from heightened intensity, games at this time of the season also bring a smaller margin of error. And that was highlighted in this clash.
All of Colorado’s goals came in a decisive second period, with the team capitalizing at three different manpowers (shorthanded, power play and even strength) to build a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Against good teams, it’s hard to chase the game,” Boudreau said.
Just 1 minute, 37 seconds into the period, the Wild surrendered its fourth shorthanded goal of the season — a shot from center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare that goalie Devan Dubnyk got a piece of before it rolled behind him.
“That’s certainly one I’d like to stop,” said Dubnyk, who finished with 31 saves. Pavel Francouz had 34 for the Avalanche.
During the Wild’s next power play, defenseman Jared Spurgeon one-timed a Zach Parise feed at 4:58 to even the score. But only a few minutes later, Spurgeon was whistled for hooking Matt Calvert on a breakaway even though it looked like Spurgeon lifted Calvert’s stick.
“I don’t think he had the puck when my stick was there, but it is what it is,” Spurgeon said.
On the ensuing power play, Colorado retook the lead at 7:22 on a Nathan MacKinnon shot that sailed through a Gabriel Landeskog screen. The Avalanche went 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
Landeskog tacked on a third goal 10:36 into the second when he buried a rebound after a shot off Dubnyk’s blocker flew into the slot.
Before the period ended, the Wild made it 3-2 with its second power-play goal in four tries — a highlight-reel sequence from Fiala. He cut to the middle of the ice, waited and then wired in a wrist shot with 2:29 left.
Fiala, who earned an assist on Spurgeon’s goal and was playing on the Wild’s top line following an in-game promotion Friday, has recorded four goals and three assists during a four-game point streak.
This was also his third multipoint game over the past four outings. His five power-play goals, a career high, are tied for second on the Wild.
“Kevin’s playing as well as he’s played in our uniform,” Boudreau said. “If he keeps that up, then good things will happen for that line.”
That’s the other positive from the past week, that the results have been hard-fought and well-earned — a style that seems necessary for the Wild to keep its climb going.
“We gotta keep pushing forward, winning two out of three or three out of four for the rest of the year,” Boudreau said.